How to raise sail if you lose engine power
In the sailing classes we have taken, we have practiced how to sail away from anchor, how to anchor under sail, or pick up a mooring ball, and even how to dock under sail. One skill that we never practiced though, nor even discussed, is how to raise sail if we were underway and suddenly lost engine power. When you ask sailors what they would do if they were ever faced with a sudden failure of their auxiliary engine, they’d likely say “I’d raise my sails, of course!” While that sounds logical, the procedure for doing so is worth considering though, because it’s not quite as straight forward as one might initially think.
Every sailor knows that in order to raise the main sail, the boat needs to be pointed into the wind. That’s the kind of thing that you learn on your first lesson. When a boat is at anchor, or secured to a mooring ball, it tends to lie that way naturally, making raising the mainsail quite easy. When a boat is not at anchor though, and is left to drift at the mercy of the wind and the waves, it does not naturally point into the wind. This makes raising the mainsail a bit more complicated.
Our step by step procedure:
The following procedure is what we would do if we were underway without any sails up, and were faced with an unexpected loss of engine power.
- Decide whether the depth of the water that you are currently in, and the location, would allow for effective and safe anchoring. In some cases, that may actually be the best option.
- Assuming anchoring is not on the table, roll out (or raise) some jib so that the boat starts making way. Note that speed is not your concern at this point, so only let out enough jib to power the boat forward, and thus give you steerage.
- If you are close to shore, and sailing under jib alone is taking you away from any hazards, continue until you are comfortable with the available sea room.
- Once you have sufficient sea room, trim in the jib, and head up until you are sailing close hauled, or as close to the wind as your boat will allow under jib alone.
- When you are close hauled, dump the mainsheet traveller to leeward.
- Ease the main sheet until the boom is aligned with the apparent wind angle.
- As the main is now effectively in the wind, while you continue to make way under jib power, raise the main.
- Once the main has been raised, either all of it, or whatever portion the conditions warrant, trim in the main sheet, adjust the traveller, alter course so that you’re heading where you want to go, and carry on!
*Note that steps 4 through 8 are essentially what we would do to reef the main, or to shake out a reef.
Want some hands-on instruction in how to do what I’ve described, and all other important sailing skills? We highly recommend our friends’ sailing school, LTD Sailing!